Recent Commonplace Entries


“As she told Richard Candida Smith in an oral history for the Archives of American Art, her family of secular Jews was both left-leaning and materially comfortable, with a yacht, servants and houses in Florida. ‘Roosevelt was as far right as people were willing to go,’ she said of her parents’ circle, adding that she grew up thinking ‘all radicals were rich.’” (from obituary of art historian Linda Nochlin in NYT, November 3)

“I’ve been married to one Marxist and one Fascist, and neither one took the garbage out.” (Lee Grant, according to Robin Morgan, who amused Simone de Beauvoir with the citation, as reported in NYT, November 3)

“Historians all write what they are, and convert their histories into a kind of blood donation.” (Michael Bentley, in review of David Cannadine’s Victorious Century in the TLS, October 27)

“You should never compliment an author on a very early book.” (Mary McCarthy to Margaret Drabble, from the TLS, November 3)

“We ought to call federal flood insurance what it actually is. It is subsidized floodplain development.” (Phil Bedient, engineer, quoted in NYT, November 12)

“His right hand dealt with grandiose ideas and glory, while his left hand let the rat out of the sewer.” (Nicholas Mosley on his father Oswald, quoted by Roy Foster in his review of Malachi O’Doherty’s Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life, in the Spectator, November 4)

We Who Have All The Answers  (part 1)

“‘After the near-collapse of the world’s financial system has shown that we economists really do not know how the world works, I am much too embarrassed to teach economics anymore,’ he wrote. In an interview not long before that, though, he belied any pretense of self-doubt when he was asked whether he was perplexed by the seemingly insolvable challenges of health care economics. ‘Have you ever seen a perplexed economist?’ Professor Reinhardt replied. ‘We have an answer for everything.’” (from the NYT obituary of Professor Uwe Reinhardt, November 16)

We Who Have All The Answers  (part 2)

“We need to rediscover the economics of collective responsibility for the society and ecosystem that we want to live in: collective responsibility for the things we require if we are to sustain human health and prosperity in a livable ecosystem.” (Ann Pettifor in TLS, November 17)

“Any nation experiencing itself within its own narrow limits feels uniquely special. ‘Nobody’s like us.’ Becoming civilized means grasping the paradox that uniqueness is something we all have in common, its diverse forms not necessary rivals, much less enemies, but potential sources of enrichment and enlargement. Nationalism grows from the failure to get beyond those narrow limits, from not looking (in the German phrase) beyond the rim of your own plate.” (T. J. Reed, who tutored me in German literature in 1966, in TLS, November 17)

“If British attributes are lightly born knowledge, social ease, self-deprecation and understated emotion, American strengths are energy, a never-say-die belief in equality, and lots of self-confidence.” (Taki, in the Spectator, November 11)

“Everything was better in Yugoslavia when the old man was running the country. Some say he was a dictator and it was a time of darkness. I say it was the time of peace.” (Zlatko Marencic, on Tito, from NYT, November 26)

Stalin & Patriotism

“James believed that his espionage was the act of a British patriot. When Magnus Linklater broke the story in the Times in 2004, he quoted my comment, which I shared with my brother and sister, that ‘This was exactly the right thing to do. It has not altered the view of him as a man and father of whom we are proud.’” (Hamish MacGibbon, in the biography of his father, Maverick Spy: Stalin’s Super-Agent in World War II, p 178)

Solid Research from the Foreign Office

“Mikoyan is, of course, an Armenian, with all the well-known characteristics of the race; but these characteristics have probably been caused by environment, and the same sort of semi-oriental and semi-commercial environment, producing in each case a certain inferiority complex together with a suspicious and indirect approach to any question, doubtless accounts for the similar methods of M. Maisky, a Siberian Jew.” [Laurence Collier to R. A. Butler] (from British Policy Towards the Soviet Union During the Second World War by Martin Kitchen, p 37)

Essay Question

“Is not the Russian attitude about Warsaw exactly the same as General Eisenhower’s about Paris?” (from 1944 memorandum by Orme Sargent, permanent under-secretary on the Foreign Office, quoted by Marin Kitchen in British Policy Towards the Soviet Union During the Second World War, p 228)

“The danger is not that we shall draw a veil over the enormous blots of the Revolution, over the cost in human suffering, over the crimes committed in its name. The damage is that we shall be tempted to forget altogether, and to pass over in silence, its immense achievements.” (E. H. Carr [where?], quoted by John Bew in TLS, November 24)

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